Article – The Nation
Says there are serious questions about whether the government has been truthful about changes to the GCSB legislation. What I can tell you is that the statement that the GCSB made to New Zealand citizens last year ‘we do not engage in mass surveillance …Lisa Owen Interviews Glenn Greenwald
Says there are serious questions about whether the government has been truthful about changes to the GCSB legislation. “What I can tell you is that the statement that the GCSB made to New Zealand citizens last year — ‘we do not engage in mass surveillance of New Zealanders’ — is one that is not truthful.”
The government engages in “extraordinary amounts of analysis of metadata, meaning who’s talking to who for how long, where they are when they speak, on a massive, indiscriminate scale, not just internationally but of New Zealanders as well.”
New Zealand is an active member of the Five Eyes Alliance and spends an extraordinary amount of resources of electronic surveillance. “…Every single thing that the NSA does that we have been reporting on over the last year and a couple of months involves New Zealand directly.”
The GCSB spies on a variety of countries for the US and the UK, both hostile and allies
New Zealand spy agencies have access to the XKeyscore spyware and contributes to it.
Lisa Owen: Thank you so much for joining us this morning.
Glenn Greenwald: Great to be with you.
It’s really hard for people to comprehend the enormous scale of spying that you’ve detailed in your book. So, simply, can you explain to us what’s actually going on?
The best way to understand it is to look at the documents that have been produced by these five intelligence agencies and what they say about their goal, and what their goal is is nothing less than to collect and store the entire internet, to turn the internet into a limitless system of mass surveillance where nothing that is done on the internet enjoys privacy any longer, and it’s not just an aspiration; it’s something they’re quite close to achieving.
So this thing that we all thought was gonna help us communicate and connect with people is a tool that’s being used against us?
The problem is there was a great promise to the internet when we first became to be aware of it, which was that it could empower people, it could democratise countries, it could liberalise how human beings communicate with one another, and that would be true only if we maintain pure internet freedom, the ability to communicate with one another as citizens and as adults, free of the intrusion and monitoring of governments and of other people and we’re now at the crossroads where as citizens, we have to decide — do we want the internet to become this extraordinary tool of oppression and surveillance or do we want it to remain free?
So, how are they actually doing this? How are they snooping around in our business?
Well, the internet is a system, essentially, of physical devices that transmit digital data, and there’s all sorts of ways that the government, both in the United States and New Zealand and in the UK, Canada and Australia, invade that system, including by tapping directly into the underwater cables that transmit it, by putting devices on people’s computers that enable them to monitor what the computers are doing or to get it from the private companies that maintain the data, such as Facebook and Google and Yahoo and Skype and the like, and so all of those ways are used.
So someone at home could unwittingly, unknowingly, have a device in their computer?
Yeah, I mean, generally, it wouldn’t necessarily be a physical device that gets planted on the computer, although those are used, but, generally, it’s some kind of a virus or a digital mechanism that literally allows governments—
You open a virtual door for them to come in and snoop around.
Where they can literally watch every keystroke that you enter.
So, given that you’re saying they’re tapping into cables directly, they’re possibly getting stuff directly from service providers, are New Zealanders’ communications being caught up in all of this?
Absolutely. I mean, one of the reasons why I’m here and why I’ve been working on the New Zealand part of the reporting for several months now is because the government made a variety of statements in connection with the new spying law that it wanted and was enacted last year to try and assuage the fears of New Zealanders about what the government was doing, including things, like, ‘We don’t engage in mass surveillance,’ and, ‘We don’t target New Zealanders indiscriminately, unless they’re involved in terrorism or cybercrimes and the like,’ and one of the things that we wanted to do was to investigate the truth of those statements and to do the reporting that would let New Zealand citizens know whether or not their government deceived them about what these spy agencies are doing, and I can tell you — although I can’t tell you what the reporting is yet — I can tell you that there are serious questions about whether the current government was at all truthful with its citizens in connection with that bill.
I just wanna read to you something that the Prime Minister has said in the past — I’m quoting him here — ‘In terms of wholesale collection of metadata about New Zealanders, that hasn’t taken place. I have asked the agency, the GCSB, and that is the confirmation I have had.’ Is he right or is he lying?
This word that he inserted into there, wholesale, means collection of every single metadata event. What I can tell you for certain is that the government does engage in extraordinary amounts of analysis of metadata, meaning who’s talking to who for how long, where they are when they speak, on a massive, indiscriminate scale, not just internationally but of New Zealanders as well.
OK, well, the other thing I wanted to talk about specifically is the Five Eyes Alliance. Are we bit players in that? Or what are we actually doing as part of that?
There are no bit players in the Five Alliance. Obviously, some countries are bigger and spend more money on surveillance than other countries within the alliance, and New Zealand is on the end of the countries that spend fewer rather than more resources, but New Zealand spends an extraordinary amount of resources, for a country of this size, on electronic surveillance, and every single thing that the NSA does that we have been reporting on over the last year and a couple of months involves New Zealand directly. They are full-fledged allies of this effort.
So, are we spying on anyone on behalf of America or any of the other Five Eyes countries?
Yes, New Zealand spies on a variety of countries on behalf of the United States.
Who are we spying on?
That’s the reporting that we’re still working on, and that’s the reporting that we’re gonna do very shortly. But I can tell you for certain that there are countries that the United States— The NSA is incapable of accessing certain countries because of hostile relations they have with those countries, and they use a variety of allies, including New Zealand, to spy on those countries for them.
So, you’re talking about hostile relationships there. Would we be spying on China, then, for them?
The GCSB spies on both hostile countries and allies for the United States, for the United Kingdom as well. Countries that probably New Zealanders would expect to find on the list and then countries that New Zealanders would say, ‘Why are we spying on countries like this that are our allies and are Western democracies?’
When you talk about spying, what kind of spying? What do you mean?
Interception of emails, interception of telephone calls, collection of hundreds of millions of meta-data events every single day that then get stored and analysed. Essentially, every form of invasion of people’s communication privacy that can be imagined, and that people over the last year, as it’s been reported, are now well aware of.
So, do you mean politicians and officials? I mean, you gave some examples in the book where the Five Eyes’ representatives new that Brazilian and Mexican officials were being spied on. So, who would they collect data from?
Well, one of the most interesting parts of the revelations to me is that it’s not just about spying. It’s about democracy and honesty with which these governments treat their citizenry. And for so long these governments tried defending the revelations by saying, ‘We only spy on terrorists. We spy to protect you from national security threats.’ And yet much of the reporting that we did was very economic and major. Spying, for example, on the Brazilian ministry of mines and energy by Canada, whose industry— the logging industry has a huge interest in what’s going on within that agency. We’re spying on the Brazilian oil giant Petrobras, for example, and the documents we use to do that reporting were documents presented at the Five Eyes conference, at which the New Zealand agency was a participant.
So it’s an economic imperative. It’s not just to save the world from terrorism. In many cases, it’s an economic imperative here.
There is absolutely an economic imperative, trying to gain economic advantage. There’s diplomatic reasons to do it, to try and work out what those other countries are doing, but there’s also a question of democratic subversion — of controlling one’s own citizenry by knowing what it is they’re saying and doing.
Because the thing is, the Prime Minister has said before, and he said it again on this programme this morning, that he’s saving lives, basically, in essence, in effect; he’s saving us from a threat.
One of the things that government officials have been doing since the 9/11 attack is using terrorism to manipulate the citizenry, and they invoke the word terrorism or the spectre of terrorism over and over and over again to justify whatever it is that they’re doing. It’s extremely easy for politicians to say, ‘What I’m doing is something I’m doing in secret. I can’t tell you anything about it, but you should trust me to do these things, because I’m keeping you safe. And all the evidence we’ve seen over the last year and half is that by and large this spying system is not geared toward anything we would recognise as terrorism but is geared towards the kinds of corrupt motives that we typically associate with such programmes.
But don’t we need to know about these real threats? Don’t we need to gather that information?
If these agencies were using this technology to spy on Al Qaeda and to spy on terrorists, to spy on ISIS, there would never have been an Edward Snowden in the first place. There would be no public debate. It’s precisely because that is the pretext and not the actual reason the spying is being used that there is these disclosures and there is a public debate. If that were all they were doing, very targeted surveillance and monitoring of Osama Bin Laden, his associates and actual extremist groups, there’d be nothing to talk about. It’s because most of it is not about that.
OK, well, I want to be clear here, so do you believe that the GCSB in New Zealand is conducting mass surveillance on New Zealand citizens or on someone else?
The reporting that we’re about to do is on that very question, and although I can’t preview it, because it’s not quite ready yet, what I can tell you is that the statement that the GCSB made to New Zealand citizens last year — ‘we do not engage in mass surveillance of New Zealanders’ — is one that is not truthful. And I think the reporting will be very clear about that.
How do you know that? What makes you say that?
Because I happen to have access to hundreds of thousands of documents in the possession of the NSA in which they discuss, both amongst themselves and with the GCSB and the New Zealand government, exactly what it is they’re doing.
So, this is basically the New Zealand chapter of the Snowden documents?
Yeah. New Zealand is the last Five Eyes partner on who we’re yet to do the reporting, and that’s the reason why I’m here and why I’ve been working for several months on New Zealand.
I want to go through a few quick things with you with the time we’ve got left. So, do you think—? We’re entering negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a big trade deal, which America is involved in. Would we be spying, or would any of those people involved in that treaty be spying on each other in the negotiations?
We have published several stories already in which the Five Eyes partners spy on the people with whom they’re negotiating as part of trade agreements.
The TPPA, do you think?
I can’t— I can’t— I can only speculate, because the documents that I have predate those negotiations. But it would shock me if this surveillance system were not being used to gain unfair advantage on the people with whom these countries are negotiating this trade agreement.
Your book included documents that were presented at a Five Eyes meeting. New Zealand was there. It showed sophisticated spyware, including a thing called XKeyscore, which basically captures every stroke of your keyboard. It also said that they were making these technologies available to some Five Eyes partners. Do you think New Zealand has XKeyscore? Are we using it?
Yes, New Zealand has access to XKeyscore. It uses it for certain purposes. It contributes data to XKeyscore as well. I think it’s hard to— I think it’s very important to understand that whatever technologies the NSA has, the New Zealand agency, the GCSB, has access to it and uses it and contributes to it. They are very much a full-scale participant in all of the spying that we’ve been documenting, which really is somewhat inconsistent with the picture this government has tried to create.
But it comes back to that question, though, doesn’t it? If you’ve got nothing to hide, what have you got to worry about?
Well, first of all, everyone has something to hide, whether you’ve done something wrong or not. It’s the reason we put locks on our bedroom and bathroom doors and protect our email and social media accounts with passwords. There is no human being who has “nothing to hide”. Privacy is extraordinarily important part of human freedom. There are all kinds of studies that say, when we know we’re being watched or think we’re being watched, we engage in conformist behaviour; we limit the choices; we do—
So it’s an assault on democracy.
It’s an assault on democracy. It’s an assault on individual freedom, and evidence historically proves that governments cannot be trusted to use this power in the dark or they will abuse it for anti-democratic ends.
Glenn Greenwald, thank you so much for joining us.
Great to be with you. Thank you.